No doubt, the world is not the same as it was in the 1940s. Those very battlefields of the World War II are now venues of joint military exercises of the erstwhile rivals, who have joined hands as strategic partners against a set of new enemies.
But 75 years on the scars they left on the minds of ordinary people who were brutalised in the rivals’ detention centres and concentration camps or were nuked refuse to disappear. Even when these countries closely share their worldviews now the nationalist sensibilities of their people have held back their leaders from publicly atoning their countries’ atrocious past.
Perhaps now that resistance to conceding their inhuman past seems to be relenting. US President Barack Obama was in Hiroshima in May this year and promised to put the painful past behind. And now it is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who paid a visit to the Pearl Harbor and offered his “sincere and everlasting condolences”. In 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto manoeuvred six aircraft carriers close to Hawaii and unleashed a deadly attack on Pearl Harbor, destroying 21 warships and 385 planes of the US Navy and killing some 2,400 people, half of them on the USS Arizona. “We must never repeat the horrors of war,” Abe said as he stood before the USS Arizona Memorial. President Obama, who stood by him, welcomed the Japanese prime minister and expressed hope “that together, we send a message to the world that there is more to be won in peace than in war, that reconciliation carries more rewards than contribution retribution”.
How deep-felt was Prime Minister Abe’s gesture of apologising the attack on the Pearl Harbor one is not sure – given the fact that almost coincidental to his move the Japanese Defence Minister Inada paid a visit to the Yasukuni war shrine which is dedicated to the souls of 2.5 million Japanese soldiers who died in wars since the second half of the 19th century.
As expected, it provoked strong resentment and anger in China and South Korea, who believe that Japan has yet to atone for atrocities committed against their nationals. Obviously then there is an element of strategic understanding to the presidential visits at Hiroshima and the Pearl Harbor than a sincere attempt at making an atonement for the excesses committed against the noncombatants during the Second World War. Were such a sentiment the driving force behind these two visits then that kind of horrific past would not have allowed to revisit Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan in 21st century.
As if no lesson has been learnt from the Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor tragedies war remains the principal tool of international politics. Take the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq the United States had workable options to resolve differences, but it still opted for wars, which devastated lives of millions of people. However, in the case of Syria too, sincere and earnest negotiations with a tyrant ruler in Damascus could have helped avert the tragedy as it unfolds now in Aleppo and other cities.
One would hope the bilateral apologies for the war crimes and belated atonement on the part of Washington and Tokyo help overcome misplaced nationalistic pride which sometimes tends to breed inhuman and atrocious mindset against the noncombatant civilians, as were the cases in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pearl Harbor in the US during WWII and various other parts of the world during and after WWII.